We’ve all experienced let down after we’ve gone on vacation or even for a Sunday drive in the country through a beautiful landscape, you stop at several “Kodak Moment” signs at a scenic overlook to create beautiful images; you get home and anxiously review your images only to be disappointed! You images have no dynamics, they are for lack of other words flat and boring! You think to your self, “how can this happen to me?”
Believe it or not but our eyes have been trained to view everything horizontally or in a landscape orientation. We have television, cinema and computers to only enable and reinforce what our eyes do naturally. How our eyes travel through an image depends on where we were raised; in English/Spanish/French/etc.. speaking countries that read right to left also read an image the same way. The same holds true for countries the read right to left or top to bottom. From there it’s all about the natural elements, light and composition!
When viewing landscapes or any image for that fact, our eyes travel through the image and are attracted to both the natural and composition elements that are most pleasing to our eyes. Although we digest a great deal of what we see, with the help of carefully composing the elements we can control how the viewer sees our images. If you need assistance improving your knowledge of composition theory, you can pick up a good book or sign up for a class on Basic Composition Theory at Larmon U and learn how to create images with greater impact.
So what does it take to create amazing landscape photographs? As with all images, creating impact using a combination of composition theory and subject matter is imperative. Great landscape images have interesting foregrounds that pull your eye into the image and great color harmony throughout the image that increases visual appeal. If you are shooting digitally, it is imperative to white balance each location just prior to creating your images. Remember you eye is attracted to the area of greatest contrast, so work on creating visual movement so your eye moves through your image with ease. Last bit of advice regarding your composition, do not be afraid of negative space, sometimes less is more!
Preparation is key! The odds are unless you have planned a day trip into the country side, seashore, mountains or an urban location the likelihood is you are taking a family vacation. That said, time is your most valuable commodity when it comes to creating landscape images so you need to pre-plan accordingly. Aside from scouting locations on the internet prior to your arrival you want to put some time aside to scout potential locations. It is a good idea to bring a point and shoot, a compass, a watch and a notepad. You can take some test exposures from several vantage points to determine which you prefer. Note the direction the sun is coming from and the time of day should you wish to return when the sun is emitting light from a more pleasing location/angle. Depending on your subject you may want to return on a cloudy day when light is not creating as much contrast, tends to be less directional and more evenly spread.
- Consider bringing your camera to Larmon for an annual clean and check to insure your camera is performing properly.
- Be sure all your camera batteries are charged.
- Clean your image sensor
- Clean your lenses so they perform optimally.
- Make sure you format your Promaster memory CF or SD cards so they are ready for your new images.
- Use your Allen Wrench to check and tighten any loose screws before you pack your Promaster Tripod.
- Pack your Filters:
- Most useful filters are:
- UV Filter
- Circular Polarizing
- Graduated Neutral Density
- Ungraduated Neutral Density
- Most useful filters are:
- Pack pencils, pads, a compass and a watch in your Promaster or Lowepro Camera Case.
- Make sure to pack snacks and water (hydration is always an imperative).
Probably my biggest pet peeve with landscape images are crooked horizon lines. Please make sure your horizon line is straight!
Water is probably the most common element used for landscape photography, oceans, rivers and streams can make for dynamic composition element that draws your eye through your image. Whether you choose diagonal, horizontal or winding direction make sure you use the water as a leading line. You can also consider what effect you would like for the water, still/frozen or rapid/movement? If you want movement you are going to use a small aperture and a longer shutter speed. Alternatively, you can use a wider lens opening and a faster shutter speed to freeze the water.
Still water, in rivers, lakes and ponds yield themselves to reflecting mirror images. Depending on the time of year these can be quite colorful landscape compositions. Try using a Promaster Circular Polarizing Filter to eliminate unwanted glare and increase the contrast and vibrance of your composition.
BEACH WARNING! A major point of concern is sand; it is advised to be careful at the beach, if it’s windy, sand can be your camera’s worst enemy! Be sure to protect your camera and lenses from blowing sand, and whatever you do, do not open the camera back or remove your lens unless you are in an area that is well sheltered from the wind.
You can play with color filters to play with the sky color. You can even try using filters that are created for other uses such as a FL-D filter generally used for balancing florescent light to a daylight exposure. On a cloudy day the FL-D filter, which is purple, can create amazing sunset images from a sky that may otherwise not be so colorful.
Creating images in a forest can be both rewarding and challenging. It’s fun to look for patterns, lines, and other natural composition elements you can use. Although we have not really discussed lenses much, wooded locations lend themselves to a multitude of focal lengths. You can use lens with a wide focal length and shoot up toward the sky so the trees appear soar to the sky; or use a lens with a longer focal length to compress your subject matter.
Wide-open spaces such as plains, prairies mountains and seascapes are not the easiest subjects for creating images with great impact, but make for amazing panoramic landscape images. Storms and sunrises/sunsets render the most striking images. Try using filters to enhance color in the sky. Remember you want to create impact, so composition theory and the rule of thirds is key. If the sky is stunning, place the horizon along the bottom third division of the frame. If it is not, say your foreground is really interesting, then put it along the upper third.
As with any subject you are trying to tell a story. Mountain ranges are no different. Composition (lines and angles), vantage point and light (time of day) are crucial to the story you want to tell. Again, the use of a Circular Polarizing Filter may prove essential to creating dramatic images with greater impact.
Deserts cover approximately 17 percent of the earth’s land mass. There is some mighty interesting subject matter in the desert both natural and man made, so you can experiment with different exposures and techniques to display its ruggedness and beauty the desert beholds.
In the desert you have three major obstacles: Sun, heat and sand. Try using using a long (greater focal length) lens to compress heat rays when you see them; you’ll get some really dramatic images. Just like the mountains, the desert is also a great places for pictures of stars. If you want to attempt including the sun in your composition you should carry a spot meter or use the meter in your camera to read the area without the sun in your image, then use that exposure when you include the sun. You can get some interesting effects with some of the light flare or bokeh that you may get when you are using wider focal lengths.